Retailer Roundtable

Retailers discuss the process of vetting products for their stores and the categories in which natural options are in high demand.


Natural chews are in high demand at Dee-O-Gee.
The Green K9 has seen an increase in veterinarian referrals for food.
Noah’s Natural Pet Market merchandises its higher-end pet foods in one section of the store.

PET PRODUCT NEWS: With so many natural options appearing on the market, how do you determine which products live up to their claims? What are you seeking in natural products?

HOLLY ALLEN: In addition to being vigilant about asking the manufacturer really specific questions (ingredient sourcing, testing, etc.), we also ask for plenty of samples for our staff to try. We have a nice group of long-standing staff members that use the products on their dogs and cats and report back to the company with their honest opinions. We really value the opinions of our staff and trust their experiences with the products we sample, and we rely on their input prior to officially adding a product line at Dee-O-Gee.

We are looking at natural calming products (looking for more variety with CBD, hemp, etc.), as well as better alternatives for joint/aging natural products. Also, we are always on the lookout for unique “long lasting” chews that are natural.

CRYSTAL HOLLAND: We are pretty picky about the products that we bring into the store and work primarily with small, family-owned businesses. We want to work with companies that are honest about what is going into their products, transparent about where they are sourcing ingredients, how it’s made, etc. And we want to work with companies who want to work with us. Support from our brands is huge, as the competition with online business gets fiercer.

As far as what we are looking for, we want innovative products. Ones that keep up with the newest research and trends in the markets, as well as ones that are successful. It is hard to bring in new products that aren’t palatable or aren’t effective in what they claim. And we want products that fit all the criteria listed above: clean, transparent ingredient panels, as well as unique options for the consumer.

MARY KNIGHT: We look carefully at the sourcing of ingredients, where the product is made, who the owners are. Transparency is very important. If the company won’t provide us the details we request, we will not do business with them. We do our own independent research, look for reviews and network with other similar stores outside of our area. Sometimes, with a brand-new product, say a food, it’s a gut instinct that this company really is manufacturing a food for the health of the animals, not just for the profit.

For instance, there are so many can-nabidiol (CBD) products on the market, and many of them are not pure or organic. It took us months of research before we brought on our first line of CBD because we wanted to make sure we were making the right decision. All of us will usually try these products on our pets and ourselves before carrying them in the shop. We want to carry products that we are confident about because we have a reputation to uphold.

We are seeking foods that are sustainably sourced and minimally processed, proteins that are unique and supplements that are naturally derived as much as possible. For treats, we like meat and fish based best. Again, sourcing is important. We also like products that are both for pets and people, like colostrum, colloidal silver and CBD oil.

MARNI LEWIS: Before bringing in a new product, we ask our distributor or the manufacturer for samples. We try it out first on our own dogs and give the samples to our regular customers and ask them for feedback.

We seek out high-quality products from reputable companies, preferably family-owned or not mass-produced for box stores. Our natural products must also provide a high percentage of animal protein as opposed to high carbohydrates and fillers and are void of: byproducts, unidentified meat meals, artificial dyes, and preservatives or other harmful chemicals, such as BHA. Although wheat, corn and soy are natural, we do not supply food or treats that contain these ingredients, as they are not quality ingredients for dogs and cats and may be allergens for some. USA- and North American-made products are a must. Eco-friendly products are a definite plus for us when choosing nonfood products.

PPN: In which categories are you seeing the most demand for natural products? What’s driving that demand?

ALLEN: Natural chews, digestive aids and kibble toppers. With chews, digestive aids or toppers, increased awareness of the importance of natural products that are ingested is driving demand. Our local efforts to increase awareness in this area for pet care, plus the national “trends” can be attributed to the demand.

HOLLAND: Food is where we see the biggest need for natural products. We are primarily a “grocer”—we often liken ourselves to Whole Foods—and natural foods for dogs and cats are our bread and butter. We constantly have customers come in with pets who have new and different allergies and aversions to foods. While many of our foods are a good fit for meeting their needs, as new allergens emerge, new products that help those allergies must also be created.

As people are becoming more and more aware of the need for natural and whole foods for themselves, they are also beginning to want the same thing for their pets. To a lot of our customers, their pets are as much a part of the family as their children, and they want to set them up for long, healthy lives. We have a lot of options available, and more and more are becoming accessible to the consumer. We want there to be more products that are natural but do not cut corners. Skimping on the ingredient quality just to make it seem to fit what the person needs or [products that are] a “trending topic” are not what we’re interested in.

KNIGHT: We see the most demand for new raw foods, healing supplements, such as goat’s milk, bone broth and colostrums, and CBD oil. All-natural kidney care for cats and dogs is a frequent request. Our customers are demanding even higher standards from the dry kibble industry. We often get asked if the food is humanely raised and/or sustainable.

What the vets are offering isn’t working. Our customers are seeing a longer-lasting result with a natural approach versus prescriptive medicine.

Also, many people now have an interest in a healthier lifestyle and are influenced by health advocates such as Dr. Oz, Dr. Mercola and Dr. Karen Becker. Social media is a powerful driver of the natural products industry. You can’t go on Facebook without seeing an ad for some sort of new natural product. Our staff is very knowledgeable and is articulate in educating our customers about the benefits of using many of our products.

LEWIS: Treats and supplements. Customers in general have become more educated about maintaining a healthy lifestyle for their pets from commercial and social media. Our customers are constantly exposed to natural products and receive guidance and advice from our staff. Our treat sales soared when we designed an educational brochure comparing unhealthy treats to healthy treat options. It was given to select boarding customers with a sample bag of healthy treats. This promotion idea arose from numerous customers bringing in unhealthy treats from outside retailers to be given to their dog during their boarding stay. Almost every customer was shocked after reading the brochure and switched to purchase treats we sell in our store.

We are seeing an increase in veterinarian referrals for food and supplements. Although most vets want to sell their veterinary brands, some are educating their clients on the benefits of healthy, natural products. They also have to answer their clients’ questions about alternative natural products that can treat common issues, rather than drugs.

PPN: Which natural products are selling the best in your store?

ALLEN: Natural chews, digestive aids and kibble toppers.

HOLLAND: Again, food is our No. 1 product. While kibble is still our top-selling product, we are seeing more and more growth in our raw food lines. When customers come in and ask for “the best thing to feed their pet,” we point them to our freezers. And if they are not completely sold on a raw diet, though the commercial brands make it incredibly user-friendly, we have a number of freeze-dried and dehydrated products to suggest as well.

KNIGHT: Goat milk is a big seller. We’ve had growth in the raw food market and freeze-dried foods. Rawz is a great new freeze dried. Earth Animal’s No Hides are our best-selling treat and a great alternative to rawhide, which we have never sold.

LEWIS: Freeze-dried foods, probiotics and calming treats.

PPN: In which categories do you wish you saw more natural options?

ALLEN: We wish there was another option for multiple SKUs of dehydrated food with high meat content and reasonable prices, as well as a coconut-based can company.

HOLLAND: It would be interesting to see more toys and accessories that are being made in America that are natural. Toys that are made with safe, natural rubbers and fabrics that dogs can use without concern for the quality. Obviously, we don’t want dogs ingesting toys, but as they chew and play with their mouths primarily, it would be great to see things that are safer for them to be gnawing on.

KNIGHT: We’d like to see vitamins coming from a whole food source rather than synthetic packages in dry food. More sustainable ingredients used in all foods would be nice. We’d like more alternative supplement solutions to tough medical issues like lipomas, respiratory problems, pancreatitis and hormonal imbalances.

LEWIS: More natural flea prevention options and more toys that are chemical free, eco-friendly and made in the USA. As a day care facility that requires harnesses be worn in group play, we would like to see more harnesses made of natural materials.

PPN: Do you often merchandise natural products separately, as their own category? Or do you merchandise them alongside other products?

ALLEN: The majority of our business model is built around natural products. We don’t carry any rawhide, no China ingredients in consumables, etc. Because of that, the majority of our store is “natural,” and the business is marketed as such.

HOLLAND: We are unique in that we are solely a natural pet market; thus, we only source natural products. We group like products with like products, not just by brand. And we try to tell a story with our endcaps and displays: locally made items, seasonal endcaps—for example, flea and tick prevention or water-safety items, etc.—and ones that showcase new items. We pride ourselves on only allowing natural products on the shelves.

KNIGHT: We only carry all-natural foods, so everything is merchandised together. Our higher-quality foods are showcased together. Our entire store is a holistic pet supply, so our customers are confident that we only choose the products we would feed to our own pets.

LEWIS: Our entire store is only comprised of healthy products, so the customer does not have to think about what is or isn’t healthy or natural. They trust that we have done our homework and have carefully selected each product based on our high standards of selection. We do merchandise optimal health options, such as raw and freeze-dried foods, and new and innovative natural products that solve common issues.

Nooga Paws staff points customers to its freezers when they ask about the best foods for pets.